Kurt Vile's 'Bottle It In' Is a Real Grower
Kurt Vile's Bottle It In is almost as long as some major studio movies, but Bottle It In rewards patient listeners with some dazzling highlights that reveal themselves with each listen.
Bottle It In
12 October 2018
In 2016, Kurt Vile and Matador Records were awarded their first Billboard number one with "Pretty Pimpin". The leadoff track from b'lieve i'm goin down topped the Adult Alternative Songs chart. Its success was a pleasant head-scratcher: it was far from Kurt Vile's catchiest song (see "Jesus Fever" or "Shame Chamber"), but it was one of his Vile-est songs. On a superficial first listen, it sounds like a standard new interpretation of a classic rock song, but its pleasures were unveiled with repeated listens, and weeks later, the song had set up a cozy residence in your head as a pleasurable earworm.
Three years since b'lieve i'm goin down, Vile and his band the Violators continue to be one of the most dependable touring bands in modern rock. Last year, Vile collaborated with Courtney Barnett. On paper, it should have been an irresistible pairing of some of the best songwriting wordsmiths going today, but it ultimately failed to produce a solid, memorable song that would rival either artist's best works.
Three years of touring, collaborations, chart success, and general fatherhood experiences have resulted in Bottle It In. Recorded at various studios with multiple producers (Peter Katis, Rob Schnapf, Shawn Everett, Rob Laakso, not to mention Vile himself), the album at least partially shuns the successful tendencies of his last album by brazenly going over the nine-minute mark three songs. And unlike Wakin on a Pretty Daze, none of these epics bookend the album. Instead, the listener winds up discovering them midway through the album. It's a risky move, as these songs threaten to bog down the already intimidating 80-minute length. But song-wise, they are some of the most interesting and even catchy the album offers.
Take "Bassackwards", the song begins with a lazy, strolling declaration, "I was on the beach, but I was thinking about the bay / Got to the bay, but by then I was far away." It's a lyric that's Vile's stock in trade: physically being in one moment, but having your mind roaming in another moment entirely. And while there is no pressing conflict, Vile is fine letting the song gradually play itself out, in no hurry to get to the chorus.
Because of their sprawling nature, tracks like "Bassackwards" and the title track end up making more of an impression than shorter (read radio-friendly) tracks like "Hysteria" and "One Trick Ponies". Regrettably, some of the most memorable parts of "Hysteria" are its laughably bad lyrics ("Girl you gave me rabies / And I don't mean maybe") than its musical elements.
Bottle It In may be an undertaking, but it doesn't suffer from front-loading. Some of its most musically interesting elements come toward the end. In "Mutinies", Kim Gordon provides a gorgeous acoustic guitar accompaniment. And for those who welcomed Vile's flirtation with the banjo, "Come Again" brings that instrument back with beautiful results. Finally, "Skinny Mini" closes the album with some gorgeous waves of melodic feedback.
The album cover of Bottle It In offers a not-so-subtle hope for its listener. The album's pre-worn record imprint indicate it's an album that has been a dear staple in a person's album collection. It's had its share of spins.
Bottle It In may not be the necessary departure that will either bring Vile new listeners or pull existing listeners away from their favorites. But it's an album made to be a "grower", designed for lengthy fall strolls through ankle-high paths of leaves. Its biggest obstacle may not be its length, but the time span a listener is willing to invest.